This is a quite personal project in which I explore my decade-long struggle with on-and-off insomnia where I take my audience on my quest to restful sleep. Despite trying countless remedies and becoming well-versed in the topic, I still found myself unable to peacefully drift off. Friends have jokingly suggested that I write a book on the subject, and so I decided to take up that challenge for my thesis. This excerpt is the first chapter of my personal story, with a total of seven chapters plus a bonus program at the end. Unlike other sleep books I’ve read, this one offers a unique perspective, chronicling my personal journey and, hopefully, providing comfort to anyone who may be facing a similar struggle. Although the root cause of my sleep issues still remains a mystery, I have found a happy ending, and I hope this book provides inspiration and hope to others who can relate…
My relationship with sleep is like a never-ending game of tug-of-war, and I never know who’s going to win. If I had to put a label on it, I’d say I’m a passive insomniac. Basically, I have a hard time falling and staying asleep, but I’m still able to function (for the most part) during the day. Or at least I’d say the lack of sleep doesn’t affect me as much as normal sleepers, as is typical with insomniacs. Some nights, I’m lucky if I get even a single hour, while other nights I’ll be out for a blissful 8-9 hours. Unfortunately, the latter doesn’t come around as often as I’d like. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely experience the consequences such as feeling disoriented, having trouble focusing, or even feeling a little drunk (minus the fun parts). But honestly, what choice do I have? I’ve got to power through the day just like anyone else.
From the outside, you’d never really guess it. I’m healthy, I have a roof over my head, I have financial security, and I have a great community of friends and family. I’m active, I take care of my physical and mental health, and I generally have a positive outlook on life. I am very grateful for all of these privileges. So what gives? What’s keeping me up at night? It’s a mystery, really. I don’t consider myself an anxious person, and I feel very happy and content with my life. But for whatever reason, sleep is just one area where I can’t seem to get it together.
The struggle of not being able to sleep has been haunting me since my early twenties. But as I’m creeping up on the big 3-0, I’ve decided it’s time to put an end to this madness (cue the dramatic music). So, I wanted to share my journey over the past decade and compile everything I’ve learned along the way into a book. I’ve read and listened to endless publications on the topic, all in the hopes of finding some kind of miracle cure. But let me tell you: there’s no such thing. We’re all unique individuals, and what works for one person might not work for another. And let’s not forget that our lives are constantly changing, so what works for me today might not do the trick tomorrow. I’m not a doctor, scientist, or a beholder of any relevant credential, really. I would say I know a thing or two more than the average person though, and as stubborn as I am, I refuse to give up on my quest to restful sleep.
That said, I’m excited to dive deeper into some of the topics that have helped me along the way and share my insights with anyone who might be going through the same. Because trust me, I know how agonizing it can be. It takes a lot of strength to keep working at it, especially when it gets tough and we’re still expected to show up for work, school, friends, and family. I firmly believe that if you want it badly enough and persevere, anything is possible. And when the good days come along, embrace them. If you’re anything like me, it truly feels like waking up with a brand-new body after a restful sleep. That’s the feeling I strive for, and what keeps me motivated. This ain’t easy, but the rewards are well worth it.
When it all sort of went down in my early twenties, I didn’t really think it was a big deal. On the contrary, I was rather content with it. At the time, I had recently switched to a vegan diet, and I figured my newfound energy was all thanks to that change. I used to feel so tired during my teens, but now, all of the sudden, I no longer felt the need to nap during the day or pass out after a night of drinking. And more energy is a good thing, no?
As I initially didn’t see it as a problem, it’s hard to say how much sleep I was getting back then. However, I do remember thinking it was just a waste of time. Which isn’t exactly a good indicator. Nevertheless, I didn’t see the point in fixing it. Because who needs sleep when you can get more out of your day, right? Plus, as long as I was eating well and staying physically active, why should I worry about not getting the full eight hours? I just didn’t see the point in striving to get my eight hours, especially when it didn’t come naturally to me.
Sure, it was frustrating to lay awake for hours, or wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to drift off again. But it wasn’t until I learned how important sleep is for our well-being that I started to notice how it also affected my concentration, memory, and other aspects of my life. Because, here’s the thing: our bodies are sneaky. We can get so used to feeling a certain way that we forget there’s a better alternative. Without even realizing, we settle for a life that’s less than optimal. It’s like our brains are trying to protect us from the pain of knowing that we could feel significantly better. Maybe ignorance really is bliss?
It took me a long time to get to a place where I really wanted to put in the work to change my less-than-ideal sleep situation. I could function just fine, but I wanted to know how much better I could be feeling. We spend roughly a third of our lives sleeping, but it’s only in recent years that we’ve started to understand just how crucial it is to our well-being. And as someone who’s a bit of a health nut, I found myself getting increasingly frustrated. I could control my diet and exercise routines, but when it came to getting quality sleep, I always seemed to fall short.
In my experience, there are three types of sleepers in the world. First, we have the unbothered sleepers who can snooze whenever they please, and just don’t give it much thought. Lucky them! Then there are the deprived sleepers who long for more, but can’t seem to find the time due to hectic schedules and demanding responsibilities. My heart goes out to those folks. Finally, we have the third category—which includes me—those who have the time, make the time, and do everything “by the book,” but still can’t catch a break. Unfortunately, it’s a more common problem than we might think. The Sleep Foundation estimates that about 10% to 15% of people have chronic insomnia, while up to 45% is affected by some sleep problems. What’s more is the average 6.7 hours adults get per night when it’s recommended we get at least 7. Many healthcare professionals and sleep experts have referred to this global issue of sleep deprivation as the “sleep epidemic”. The increasing awareness around it has been helpful, and it feels comforting to know there are other night owls out there.
Clinical insomnia is defined as recurring difficulty sleeping at least three nights a week for a month. There are essentially two types of it and I have both (double win.) First, the “sleep onset insomnia”, when it’s tough to fall asleep. Then we have “sleep maintenance insomnia”, when it’s tough to stay asleep. It’s a rough spot to be in when you’re trying to fall asleep but just can’t seem to quiet your mind, until you finally doze off only to wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep again. I’m always a little anxious to check the time when I wake up during the night. It’s a common theme among insomniacs to feel worried about how the night will turn out. So just know that you’re definitely not alone in this!
Insomnia can stem from many different causes. I used to blame external factors for my problems, thinking that it was just occasional acute insomnia caused by stressors of life circumstances. However, as time went on, and the stressors faded away but the insomnia remained, I realized that it was a deeper, chronic issue. It’s mostly frustrating because there doesn’t seem to be an apparent reason why. It’s like my body has become a pro at functioning on less sleep and sees no point in breaking the cycle.
My favorite city, where I’m also lucky enough to live, is appropriately nicknamed “the city that never sleeps.” I really got a taste of what that meant last summer, one year after moving to New York. I was having the time of my life, meeting new people and exploring everything the city has to offer. While I still managed to keep a healthy lifestyle of eating well and staying physically active, I gradually started to sleep less and less until I couldn’t sleep at all. And it wasn’t due to a lack of trying. I went to bed at a reasonable time, around 11pm, and I would just lay there, eyes shut but wide awake, until the alarm went off in the morning. Sometimes I would fall asleep around 6am, at least giving me a couple of hours. My brain was fried, and I felt like one of the zombies from The Walking Dead. It was honestly a little scary.
I went off alcohol, tried to de-stimulate my brain by being less social, and explored services and products that I thought might help break the vicious cycle. In chapter 3 I go deeper into my experiments and other things I’ve tried over the years. While the worst eventually subsided, my baseline was still pretty low. I was just happy to get one good night’s sleep that could power me through the rest of my week. It wasn’t ideal, but better than a total of 10-15 hours a week.
Having dealt with insomnia for a while now, I’ve managed to find some coping mechanisms. Instead of letting it interfere with my daily routine, I stick to my schedule as much as possible and try not to stress about the sleep I’m missing out on. While I’m well aware of how it can affect both my mental and physical health, I try to stay optimistic and just work to improve the situation. I know it’s going the right direction when I gradually start having fewer bad days. The ultimate goal is to become one of those people who just love going to bed at night. That would be the dream! (pun intended.)
Have you ever read those books that spend a ton of time listing all the dangers of not getting enough sleep? Yeah, me too. But let’s be real, that kind of information isn’t exactly helpful when you’re lying in bed trying to drift off. That’s why I want to take a different approach with this book and focus more on the positives. Sure, it’s important to know the “dangers”, but let’s not dwell too much on the negatives. After all, what you focus on grows, right? So let’s turn to the good stuff, and see where that takes us!
Now, we could dive into the social structures that contribute to poor sleep, particularly in poorer communities. But for this book, I’ll be sharing my personal perspective. I’m writing from the POV of the third category: those who have an unreciprocated relationship with sleep. I could just cut to it and call us insomniacs, but I think this term oversimplifies the complexity. Nor do I think it’s productive to get too attached to it. This book is not only for sleep strugglers, but also for anyone who wants to learn more about the beauty of sleep, for those who want more control of their nightly routines, and for those who want to maximize their potential in life. It’s not just about feeling rested and energized—there are so many other benefits to sleeping well. Sleep can have a profound impact on our lives by making us better at our jobs, improving our physical and mental health, and revitalizing our soul. To keep myself motivated I find it helpful to remind myself of these upsides, which I will go into more detail in the next chapter. It’s a deeply personal journey that we undertake with our subconscious mind. It’s not something that can be easily shared with others, but I also think that’s the beauty of it. It really is about the relationship with the most important person in your life: YOU.
I’m not here to give you advice, as there’s already plenty of that out there. What I’ve learned is that everyone’s journey is different, and only you can figure out what works best for you. But I’m here to support you along the way. I’m just a girl who’s learned a lot from my own experiences and wants to share my findings to make the journey a little less scary and lonely. Let’s work together to make sleep work for us, rather than against us.
This book is for you if you want to be blown away by the stuff our brains do while we snooze, and how sleep supports your overall health. I’ve tried everything from the absurd to the ordinary in my quest for better sleep, and I’ll share it all with you – the good, the bad, and the downright stupid. Plus, I’ll guide you through my experience on a six-week program and whether it was worth it. And because I know bedtime can be scary for some of us, I’ve also included a cozy story to hopefully help you drift off into dreamland. Speaking of dreams, we’ll then go into this mysterious world and explore the untapped potential of our nocturnal adventures. And, as a bonus, I’ve got a special program if you’re interested in exploring this further. Go check out my book to learn more and find out if I succeeded in my quest to sleep!